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Poems 2000 page 3

Back to poems 2000

Poems from 1999

Poems from 1998

Donald Ryburn


She woke with tears of irredeemable bitterness.
Robes of a date tree
Wrapped around her waist,
Her breasts.
Anthropologists unearthed her arms,
Described them in rubics
And geometrics.
Did not document the reddish stars
That ventured across her peach skin,
Fine silk trees sprouted from her pores.
Did not detect antelope scents,
Nights in Romagnano Codifiume
With no fires.
They said her body spoke
Cultural languages of pure, white snow.
Could not discern a single phrase
She had spoken.
Did not hear the trumpets and tantaramas 
Of her grave.
They said it was easier to kill her
Than to disintegrate her individual form.


She was nostalgic for unknowns.
Firedrops that burned red, silken panties,
Beads of panther sweat,
Orange blossoms melted her senses,
With their falseness.
She kept the roots of nettles in wood alcohol.
Walked home as a small Indian man
Dressed in white.
Made jars of pickles for children.
She held tarot cards up to the lamp
So as to see through them.
She was last seen gathering roots
Among the willows by a river of stone.
Her home is now a Office Depot parking lot,
Acquired through condemnation laws.

Ernest Slyman

Once My Pretty Doubts

Once my pretty doubts put on a pretty dress,
strolled down the streets of the town
and smiled at the handsome young certainties 
who stood looking dapper in their bowties 
and clean shirts and shiny shoes.
And my pretty doubts
pursed their red lips,
coquettishly wiggled their hips
at the crowd, blushed and flirted
with all the eligible certainties 
who yearned for pretty doubts,
who believed they were the one --
each inevitable, undeniable,
holding up flowers and candy,
wishful of courtship;
so certain the mob of certainties
blessed with a rosy, candied scent
seized my pretty doubts,
tore my pretty dress,
and each certainty in their turn
held me down and soiled me.

In the Rooming House

Last night old gentlemen
in the rooms listened bleakly
for the lamps to murmur on;
all believed steadfast
in the turning of doorknobs,
which each night
brought order into the world.

The creaky floorboards
hastened toward disbelief,
always the point of discussion
loomed brightest at the end
of an argument.

The plumbing blustered its faith,
unchanged after three decades,
skirted the hard questions,
but found in half answers
a place to rejoice,
since the plump day had queerly run
through the world, begging a favor,
which they had never granted,
though on this plump day
gave foolishly away.

Brian Docherty interview

Suspended Sentence

They opened a file as soon as I appeared in print 
a red star and a yellow sticker meaning 'Trained at 
The Anglo-American School Of Typewriter wrestling'. 
I am on parole after 6 months writing Latin epigrams. 

I have given my word to mind my language 
no more going equipped with Pound & Williams. 
I have agreed to write proper English Verse 
like Masefield & De La Mare, stay away from Bunting. 

The Judge's dictionary has lots of words. 
Recidivist. Flaneur.You know the sort of thing. 
If I offend again I will be exiled to a place 
where the, language has no word for pyjamas. 

I will not use foreign words 
not even the ones we stole from other languages. 
I will not make my typewriter commit unnatural acts.
I will not spill my politics on the paper. 

The Poetry Police are beating out a rhythm 
on my door, trochaic tetrameter paraphrasing 
Beethoven, Thus Fate Knocks At The Door. 
Read ma badge.You're huckled ya wee clype.BELT UP.

They have brought a chair with straps,a copy of 
The Dodo Book Of Dead White Middle Class Chaps
From Oxford. They will either bore me to death 
or re-educate me to be a useful citizen. 

They had a spy taping last night's reading. 
"I'll read some new work" came out as 
'These words are a conditional discharge 
to stain your fingers and pollute your mind' 

Cats Against Nuclear Power

They are an elegant exercise in perfect timing 
they can even make millions for mediocre composers 
prancing women in painted leotards a pale imitation 
denying Old Possum's grinning skull beneath the skin. 
We never hear their mating cries in the garden 
they do their fighting and fucking somewhere else. 

As a child in Glasgow that noise terrified me 
convinced it was the souls of lost demon children 
rising up the walls of our tenement to the kitchen 
window to hang there    inviting me to join them. 
I prayed they could not make me get out of bed. 

Do you remember that film Children of The Damned 
their red eyes shining power and command 
taking over dull 50s England with ease. 

Does your cat order you about with superiority 
confident of who is the master race 
rebuking you for not anticipating his every wish. 

Having seen a Scottish wildcat rip open 
a dead sheep I am thankful our little masters 
from Egypt and Lake Van are like Napoleon 
small but perfectly formed   garden size gods. 
I sleep well at night untroubled by evil 
I hardly notice the nuclear trains passing 
through on the line at the bottom of Crouch Hill. 
I believe the scientists who say it's safe. 

But my cat stays in at night till it passes 
he knows how small things die in the night 
wakes me up when it crosses Hackney Marshes believes 
water is barrier to anything unnatural.

Where I Go in My Dreams

The place in the dream is familiar,
a sepia scene where the trams turn 
in a circle in the Vienna Woods. 
1 have never been there in real life 
any more than say, San Francisco, 
another city I could navigate via films 
or reconstruct stone by stone from books. 
I have a strong and aching memory 
of leaning against the rear rail 
of the tram talking to a pretty girl.
In Dutch she would be gezellige. 
1 cannot think of the German equivalent 
nor what her name might have been 
even though we had just kissed, 
might have been lovers, our soundtrack 
a Strauss waltz, called I believe, 
Geschichten aus dem Wiener Wald, 
the narrative borrowed from Kafka 
or Freud as you choose. The clothes 
make it pre-war, but which war, 
the sepia tinge implies nostalgia, 
slow tempos, good manners, 
not Harry Lime's shifty paranoia. As dawn approaches 
I know the film is running out even though 
I am still asleep. I hope to meet 
this girl again, learn her name, perhaps 
take her father for a beer, but for now, 
the tram starts up again, she steps off, 
and walks away not looking back 
up the moonlit road running into the woods.

Katherine Gallagher interview

Jet Lag

(Published in Poetry Review, 1999)

I didn't go round the world. It went around me 
crossing time zones in my sealed-off balloon,

following inflight-arrows across Europe,
Asia, Australia. Don't ask what day it is -

my body clock ticks in those concertinaed
intervals between borders and continents,

oceans urging them forward.
I can't find sleep. Instead I have birds

crisscrossing the lanes of my head.
They saw my airship slip by and me peering 

through a window, setting my watch
by the stars. I'll catch up with this shaky life,

wrap it around me like a quick nap.
Leonardo put such problems on hold

with his ornithopter, needing wings
to flap before it could move.

So much for all that sky-gazing,
wanting to get off the ground.

Now I'll just sleep on possibilities.
I'm still thirty thousand feet up,

nudging clouds like a sunset, the day
slipping through my fingers.

Thinking of my Mother on her Anniversary

(Published in the Lancaster Festival Anthology, 1996)

I search her face across a hemisphere,
embark on one more journey.

Will you come?

She's ready with the thermos,
wearing her brown gardening-shoes,
her glasses slipping forward on her nose.

Says she's been planting dahlias
to make a summer show,

a new display for the place
she calls her Park.

Over the cloudbank it's candescent,
close. I dare her to keep up

with me. She shuffles answers
to fit my questions. We float -

almost sisters 
in the glide of it.

Knebworth Park

(Published in Agenda, 1996)

A cave of air softens,
hovers over our heads.
We've waited all year for this:
the March lull, the park
almost tourist-free.

Put your ear
to this unsaddled soil,
sound out the mating-calls
of beavers, rabbits, voles;
hear horses' hoofbeats
pound nearer-far.

I have made an altar of calm
among these ageing oaks,
lines of stiff-backed trees.

Our walk circles the ancient house,
grounds set off by daffodils.
A five-year-old sings a nursery rhyme,
wanting to pat sheep. Their beady eyes
distract, promising only puzzles.

We call ourselves comfortable explorers,
notice a wine-glass left among the ferns.
A squirrel skids into wintry hiding.
As the light fades, we study
each other's faces
for signs of sun.

William Oxley interview

from London Visions

Glad In Mayfair

Nothing here only the smooth purr
of fabulous limousines
and carpets softer than fur.

Nothing here but a few boutiques,
squares, and square gardens
where days are longer than weeks.

Nothing that is not completely owned
and more out-of-reach than stars,
nothing that could not be made or cloned

by the infinite discretion of wealth:
save an apple-skin sky over
Hyde Park and a cat moving with stealth

towards superior Grosvenor Square.
And, yes, though I blush to admit it,
myself, just glad to be there.

Dictionary Johnson

    Who never tired of London but was often tired of life.
    Who, where the French philosophes played it pretty safe
    Making their gallic lexicon by a forty-strong committee,
    Wrote the first English dictionary quite single-handedly.
    Yet who protested himself the often guilty idler
    Loving taverns of an evening and to be a nighttime rambler
    When the noisy life of day like dung had settled down
    Into damp smoky shadows beneath a whorish moon.
    Who said, 'Be not satisfied with greater thoroughfares
    Follow little lanes and courts, not the grander squares'.
    Who in a very humble court lived an untidy sage,
    Like an ungainly giant in a periwig of age
    That shrank upon his head yarmulka-wise
    Drank tea by the litre and port pint-sized
    When in The Mitre or Turk's Head wittily opining
    In sentences that were ponderous yet refining
    Of a sophistry and wisdom which made him even then
    The supremely pompous Cham of our Great Wen.

Wren's Zion

Reflecting Thy Mind but made by maggot men
A new grim Troy that burns forever and again.

A nebula of lights, a river's will, born
From a storm in heart's darkness, spawn

Of a long proud history, you vivify me,
London, like a modern jewelled Rood Tree.

What I'm saying as I walk your rain-spat streets
Is I find in your turning days time meets

More than time but it is no easier to explain
Than why the least white speck of love has pain

In it and all the joys imaginable also.
To some you're just a bloody West End show

But to me, even in your Mammon's Quarter
That cannot ever deny the spirit's slaughter

You are a paradigm beyond words,
Not some gross model built of golden turds

But copy of a higher city, Wren's Zion
Spun from light-stars by the billion.

In Eastcheap, Cheapside and Covent Garden 
The splutter of ideas meet the silence of vision

And like sparrows that in plane trees merge
So I in all my active atoms often verge
On understanding but end in leaf-strewn loss.



(after Ben Jonson)

    Such cruel ingenuity
    you possessed
    for foxing folk of their gold:
    exquisite your act
    those ointment-coated eyes horrible
    and liar's cough
    brittle as reeds in the throat.
    Such pretence at being old
    on which your lust 
    alone blew the gaff
    seeing chance of rape
    on friend's white-armed wife
    who managed to escape.

    And you still live 
    in guileful guise
    for every generation,
    welcome the sun's glory
    as second best to money
    and in place of opulent palace
    have an office in the City.
    Your games are more on paper now
    and somewhat technical 
    if not less profitable 
    but there's come-uppance as before,
    always parasites around
    to be the fly
    in every ointment you try.

Ghost Boat

(photograph of an old Brixham Trawler)

    Trawling monochrome seas of the past,
    old boat you occupy memory now:
    tall sharp-sparred mainmast
    with sky-stitched rigging through which
    hoarse winds shrilly blew.

    Your salt-starred crew with chapped hands
    and rum-ripe faces are gone:
    asleep in wormy bunks on land
    beneath earth's huge bulkhead undisturbed
    by ocean's roll and rhythm.

    In photography's album of lost days
    I find you pictured in deathlessness
    caught in the act of braving bold waves,
    and it is as if you still sailed on
    past tussocky headlands of time.

    Foam sudding your sodden sides, voices
    calling tarry commands,
    tired arms tugging at mainbraces
    events in the deaf-and-dumb language
    of image, you frozen trawler

    tossed forever in the bay of my mind!
    And I cannot help asking how real
    is the past?  Or death, how blind?
    When an old boat that is now no more
    can sail still by my living shore?

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